(Initial) Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali's blog has now moved to http://blog.mahabali.me

This Is How We Do It: coloring our vision?

4 Comments

A couple of incidents have triggered this post. I might be wrong in judging that the root cause behind them is an unreflective sticking to tradition or habit, but that’s what I think today 🙂

The first incidence relates to my students feeling they had to meet f2f to work on a collaborative project when they could work perfectly well online (synchronously or asynchronously). This coincides strangely with a similar incident mentioned by Rebecca on fb recently.

The second and the one I plan to elaborate on relates to online journals. I am frustrated by an article I wrote last summer about MOOCs. It was accepted after peer review for publication in November, but is still not published yet (particularly frustrating because my views on MOOCs have changed a lot since then so the article won’t even make that much sense to me anymore. I know scholarly publication takes time (my first ever took about 10 months from acceptance to publication) but but in the meantime I have had many other articles published in a more timely manner using three different models, and I would like to understand why every online journal does not consider having at least one of the below policies:

1. The most traditional journal I recently published with (Teaching in Higher Education) have an advance online publication policy: as soon as an article is ready it gets published online and promoted. Then when the full issue is out, the article gets an issue/volume number, etc. I like this because: who reads a full issue unless it is a special issue?

2. Hybrid Pedagogy are my favorite. The peer-reviewed piece is published within days of acceptance and gets extensive social media marketing immediately by the editorial team and author(s). Personally, as a reader, this means that I know about maybe one article each week that they publish and I read about 80% of them. Why? They are short enough and accessible enough and reading one a week is manageable for pleasure academic reading (by which I mean, not directly related to research I am doing now).

3. Al-Fanar is not peer reviewed but the articles get edited. But the model is still interesting. An article is up and promoted as soon as it is ready. Then a periodical newsletter puts together all the best of the latest pieces. This works great because you can find new articles up there if you visit regularly, and still you can get the newsletter in case you missed it.

I don’t understand publications or journals that choose to hoard articles until they have got a full issue together. Why?

In this world of social media and speed (live with it!) I don’t know who sits and reads an entire issue (ok, maybe on paper, but online?). I never buy newspapers. I would rather read scattered articles from different online papers… Make my own 🙂 often combining things recommended by friends from twitter and facebook

The more dynamic or urgent the topic, the better it is to publish fast, right? It is also easier to then promote each article on its own via social media.

Which brings me back to the point: the desire to stick to waiting til issue is ready sounds like sticking to habit or tradition without considering the consequences of the readership. This is how we do it. This is comfortable and familiar. But is it easier? Is it better for authors or readers or the journal’s visibility? Maybe other authors/readers are different from me, but what would it hurt to accommodate impatients like me?

Back to the student example earlier: do students really need to meet in person for group work? Sometimes, but not always. It takes judgment and creativity to know when. But it is almost always worth considering the alternative. Not everyone will be as comfortable, but it is (at least for ed tech students like mine) an experience worth trying.

What do you think?
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Author: Maha Bali

Associate professor of practice, American University in Cairo

4 thoughts on “This Is How We Do It: coloring our vision?

  1. Maha, I have a very different view of collaboration online versus face to face–if I have the choice. Let me share that view because I know you appreciate different perspectives and approaches as a teacher and scholar.

    I study the use of collaborative/interactive tools and spaces in the teaching of writing, and I could list here a LONG list of powerful affordances and benefits of using those tools and spaces in addition to face to face meeting/discussion and feedback (not in stead of). As a teacher, I love being on the frontline and explore new affordances as they arrive (I’ve done this since 2006 when I moved from a place with limited electricity and internet to a place where they are both 24/7 and taken for granted, at least where I live and work). I just returned from a conference where a colleague and I presented an interactive pedagogical session and a multimodal pedagogy poster on the benefits and caveats of taking it all online. We are building a portfolio of blog posts and video demonstrations for our department (we recently posted our first post here)

    However, there is absolutely no way I can compare face-to-face conversations with individual students in my office, with in-class small group or paired discussions, or with whole-class conversations onsite. Must add: my students can afford to have both onsite and online experiences; I value the complementary nature of both and I design and teach courses accordingly; and the local sociocultural context here is such that most of my students wouldn’t be inspired and energized enough to explore all the learning opportunities on their own. So, what I say cannot be generalized, and I am only trying to respond to your question about why students seem to prefer onsite collaboration by showing how my students strongly prefer the way I bring together the affordances of both worlds. I have discussed this with my students, and both they and I cannot imagine online as a substitute of onsite collaboration–not to mention how much more we believe they get when I combine the best of both worlds for them. For us, the general order of preference is simple: 1) onsite, supplemented with online, 2) onsite only, 3) online only. What my students do online is an extension/addition to what they start in office hour conversations with me, what they start doing in class, what they follow up in class, what they really make sense and realize and enjoy in class. Here are some possible reasons why onsite collaboration is a superior learning environment for my students: they’re 18-22 year old students who are juggling work and study, often lacking energy and motivation to read and implement all the guidelines I provide them on the course site, and most inspired when I am directly talking to them and facilitating lively conversations. So, for them, very clearly, the ultimate magic (as we call it) happens when they come to my office, start by describing their learning agenda/needs and I help them explore their ideas by asking questions (How about…. What if…. Here’s what I find intriguing about what you just said…. Remember that readers…. Wow, that’s amazing, because….), by helping them generate and outline their ideas, by pointing out the strengths and weaknesses in their work, etc. They are not comfortable when I do that publicly in class, through email/comments, or without the opportunity for interactive discussions and in person.

    The same thing doesn’t apply for me. I don’t have the time to go sit in anyone’s class anymore. I am grateful for these amazing opportunities for pursuing my passion for life-long learning virtually. However, I wish I could still afford to go to a professor, say a professor of statistics, and let her “force” (I don’t hesitate to use this word!) me to raise my statistical knowledge to a certain level by making me (and my peers) go through a rigorous process–because, otherwise, it looks like I will never pursue and meet the objectives that I clearly need to. (Every time my research/writing demands statistical analysis, I avoid it). This is not to say that I do not “trust” my 18-22 year old students to pursue their own education, to meet their own learning objectives by working with me exclusively online. But the traditional, onsite, rather top-down method of teaching/learning where the teacher’s presence and facilitation are central (and, still demanded by students) has its own place, its benefits, its beauty. I still value it. So do my students.

    I would be happy but surprised (and skeptical) if my students told me that they can achieve the same quality of learning by collaborating online only. I know that that’s a blunt statement, so let me give one last example. Students in my Writing in Your Profession are currently doing peer review of their “professional autobiography” essays. For the next class, I have a “discussion rubric” (a set of questions to be used as a starting point for assisting peer reviewers to help generally improve each other’s essays, which are highly open and complex pieces). This phase of collaboration can NOT be authentically done through any kind of virtual substitute: I am not sure why (not just how) I would ask students to interactively discuss their drafts online. Asynchronous review would be absolutely inefficient in achieving the goals of the interactive feedback session. And collaborative tools/spaces would only serve well for follow-up review and feedback in this situation. In my own collaborative work, I strongly prefer to develop, organize, and refine my ideas by interactively discussing them with my collaborator(s). It is only when synchronous, voice-based, and thorough discussion and development of idea is NOT possible or easy for me to achieve that I accept the asynchronous alternatives. Based on a blog post you wrote some time ago–and for very specific set of reasons (and limitations) rather than general preference–I think that you prefer the opposite/asynchronous mode of collaboration–or at least like the conveniences of the asynchronous. I do too. But when the opportunity (or privilege?) of onsite collaboration is available (especially alongside online follow up/supplementation), synchronous, in-person (especially one-on-one with teacher) discussions remain a very strong preference for me and my students so far.

    Online-only teaching contexts are a different matter altogether. Let me stop there because this has become a lengthy comment already.

    • Wow, Shyam, that response is an entire blogpost all its own! (As if we have not spent the last few days writing and writing and talking together haha).
      I don’t disagree with any of what you said, but context is everything.
      First, you mention the order of preference for your students: f2f supplemented with online. This is exactly what I am suggesting to my students. We meet f2f once a week. I was suggesting they work online in between and collaborate synchronously or asynchronously (electrical cuts make the former difficult even though they are only 4)
      Second, my students are adults. These particular four are all full-time teachers who are also mothers. They do not have the “luxury” of meeting f2f more often than we already do.
      So in my case, logistics would prevent additional f2f meetings. The actual assignment they’re collaborating on really does not require f2f meetings (trust me on this: they are each supposed to evaluate diff tools and create a prototype of how they would use it THEN meet somewhere to decide which to use. Even this final step can be done synchronously online for example because loads of f2f meetings and discussions have already taken place and more will come).
      So.. Apologies for not providing enough context for that one. I agree online collaboration might not be “good enough” for ALL contexts. Am pretty sure i say that in my post. I was just suggesting they think of alternatives before they insist on f2f. Does that make sense?
      But I really value the detail and nuances in your response. And I do know how great of an online collaborator you are (obviously!) – but as you say the context is different: we don’t have the privilege of f2f. But believe me, I have the privilege of doing loads of stuff with great colleagues f2f, and great things come out of it, but qualitatively different greatness is going to come out of my work with you (inshallah). I have a gut feeling about that.

  2. That really adds clarity to the context. I just focused on the one question that you asked because that’s a major issue in my mind. This issue about the efficacy of online versus offline collaboration is obvious to us (I’m smiling that I wrote a lot of obvious things in the long comment!) but it is not to a lot of students and often teachers who either support or oppose one or the other type rather than assessing the effectiveness of both modes for different purposes, within different limitations (as you added in your response), and for different student demographics. Good discussion. Let me add a link to an article that is really tempering some of the craziness around online education here in the US: http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-mh-uc-prexy-napolitano-20140326,0,2067391.story#axzz2xEY2fG00

  3. Hi Maha

    I share your frustration with traditional” journals, paywalls and the length of time they take to publish articles. I want my words out there as soon as I write them so I can start having a conversation. I don’t think it can be only we two who are this impatient!

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